Seth and Paul followed her at a distance. She was too fast, and Sam wasn't about to use another Alpha order on her to stop her, not when the last one had backfired so badly. Seth wanted to be with her, and he didn't want her anywhere near Sam, so he ran after her. Paul felt protective of her and did the same.
Sam didn't move. He didn't need to, and it would only make things worse. Instead he watched through the eyes of his brothers, and he had already invaded her mind. He didn't talk to her; he just absorbed her thoughts and the recriminations of her brother, who was begging him to leave her alone. But he was too stunned to do anything. He couldn't figure out how to reconcile his resurfaced memories with his life as he knew it. Before Leah's return, he knew on an intellectual level that he was born long before he met Emily, but everything prior to that day had been a blur. What knowledge he retained of Leah, of his plans, of his dreams, did not feel like they belonged to him but to someone else. It was if he had read about them and memorized the facts, then discarded what he didn't need to know.
Leah was surprised that she could feel worse than she already did. She felt guilty for even thinking about Sam when her father had just died, but she couldn't help it, not after he had exposed her so brutally. No matter how far she ran, he was still there. What the fuck happened to you? First you act like I was nothing, like I never existed. And now this? You go from thinking I'm no one to showing me to everyone! The Sam I remember would have kicked your ass for what you just did! Those were private memories! Those were ours! You tossed them away like they were nothing, and then you display them like they're porn! Who are you? What the fuck is wrong with you? The person you used to be, he's gone, isn't he? Everything you wanted to do, what you wanted to be, all nothing. You've tossed your dreams away. You tossed me away, buried the memory of me, and then bring them out like that! I feel fucking filthy now! Is that what my life is now? What am I supposed to do? My plans, they're gone, aren't they? All that work. Was it all for nothing? Is this what I am now? Am I going to be lobotomized like you?
I didn't mean to do it, Sam began. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. It just slipped out.
No matter how honest it was, his apology was an afterthought, and a worthless one at that. Shove it, Sam! You think sorry cuts it? After everything you've done to me? What's next? Are you going to rip my heart out with your bare hands? Or are you going to do it with your claws?
She barreled ahead without regard to her surroundings, branches striking her face and tangling in her long coat. To get away from the tearing limbs, she headed for an area where the trees had thinned.
Watch where you're going, Jacob urged.
But she didn't. The only thing she cared about was getting away from Sam. The more distance she put between the two of them, the better. She aimed for an opening.
Try to calm down, Leah, Jacob urged.
It was impossible. How? Why? Every time I think things can't get worse, they do. I don't know who Sam is. Apparently I don't even know who I am.
Paul said, You're still you. You still feel like you, right? So you're still you.
I'm me? This is me? This giant fucking dog? This animal? I sure as hell don't look like me! And you want me to calm down? How am I supposed to do that? What for? My fucking dad just died! I killed him by becoming this thing! Oh god, daddy! His last moments flashed before her in a terrible loop. She started to sob again, crying so hard as she ran that she couldn't see straight. It slowed her down enough that Paul actually caught sight of her. When she realized how close he had gotten, she sprinted away.
Can't you all leave me alone? she demanded. I don't want anyone near me but Seth. And after what Sam just did, I don't think I can bear to look my brother in the eye. What do the rest of you want from us?
Jacob, who was watching from his spot on the border of their territory, said, We're just trying to help. I'm sorry, but you've got to watch where you're going.
Who cares where I'm going? I just need to get away!
Sam reiterated, But not there! You're going to get caught and expose us all!
She finally looked around. She was about to enter a residential neighborhood.
Turn south before you wander into Cullen territory or get spotted, Jacob told her. The last thing you want is to run into a vampire tonight.
She thought about ignoring them and plowing straight through, treaty be damned, but the way the night was going, she would end up in a fight with an undead creature and get maimed. She couldn't possibly be lucky enough to actually die, not tonight. She changed direction, but it only helped her escape one predator. Sam was still sifting through her mind.
Can't you give us some time? Seth begged.
Shell-shocked but trying to remember his duty, Sam answered perfunctorily, You're both my responsibility. I have to make sure you stay safe and that you don't expose the pack.
But he couldn't stay focused on their safety. The sight of Leah's human form huddled on the ground had floored him. He wanted to hide his confusion, but there was no way. He kept bringing up pictures of Emily to reconcile the differences that Leah and Seth pointed out. Before Leah showed him, he had no idea that he saw her differently than she actually was. He could disregard her assertions that he imagined small details incorrectly, but he couldn't deny that Emily's face was terribly scarred. He tried to picture them; he knew they were there, but he couldn't see them clearly. The harder he tried, the more frustrated he became. Soon all he could see were the lovely eyes that belonged to Leah, the ones he had thought were Emily's all along. They must be the same. They're related, he mused, so they have the same eyes.
God damn it, Sam, snarled Paul. Don't you see how much worse you're making everything? Get out of here. Just go.
Sam didn't want to listen to Paul, whom he considered to be the most volatile and least reliable member of the pack. But Jacob, too, urged him to go and insisted he could keep things under control. Leah raged against his presence. When Seth again sadly asked Sam to leave, he decided he would go home and prove to himself that Emily looked just as she thought she did.
Finally, he was gone.
Leah only felt marginally better after Sam's departure. She was still reeling from the night's revelations. Her grief was fresh, her pain was raw, her confusion was great, and her self loathing was undeniable. She was a monster in the most literal sense of the word. It was no wonder that the spirits had deemed her unworthy of Sam. Even if he had been transformed into someone barely recognizable, though his mind and heart had somehow been mutated into something ugly and dark, he still deserved better than her. Better than a murderer.
You didn't kill your dad, Paul told her.
Jacob agreed. It looked like he just had a heart attack or something. You know this better than I do; you're a nurse. You can't give someone a heart attack. It's not how it works.
No? She challenged. You don't know what I said to him. How awful I was being. How irrational and argumentative. That alone was a stress he couldn't afford. And exploding in front of him? It was me changing into this creature, this thing, that set it all off. If I hadn't changed, he'd still be alive. It's the truth. No one can argue it, because you all know it's true.
Jacob countered weakly, You shouldn't say that. We have no idea what may or may not have happened. But in his heart, they could tell that he agreed even though he didn't blame Leah. Harry probably would still be alive if he hadn't just suffered the greatest shock of his life.
Leah made it all the way to the Olympic National Forest before she realized that there was no escape, even with Sam temporarily elsewhere, and as long as she was still part of the pack mind, there was nowhere to hide.
It took Seth two days to change back into his human body. For Leah it was even longer. Every time she would start to calm down, a trigger would set off her emotions and reverse her progress. She would remember the shame of exposing her body, and even if no one was within sight of her, she became too agitated to shift. Or one of the boys would phase out so they could go to school, and she would remember the shift at the hospital she was missing, and she knew she would never return to Pullman. She might catch a glimpse of her distraught mother through someone else's eyes, and her grief would be eclipsed by her guilt for abandoning Sue when they needed each other the most. Once she saw her reflection in the river, and she immediately flashed back to an image she had plucked from Seth's memory. She saw her wolf's body leaning over her father, and she knew she had killed him as certainly as if she had slashed his throat with her claws. Her life as she knew it was over.
Between the physical trauma of her transformation, the days of painful illness that had preceded it, the fresh grief of the loss of her father, the old wound of Sam and Emily's betrayal, and her newfound knowledge that her future was forever changed, Leah was exhausted in body and in mind. The voices in her head alternately startled her, disturbed her, or frightened her. She tried to put on a brave face for Seth's benefit, but once he disappeared from the pack mind, she found that her reserves were empty, and she had nothing left for pleasantries or courtesy. If she couldn't change back into her human body, a task that she feared was impossible, all she wanted was to be left alone with her grief and guilt.
But there was no privacy to be had. Someone was always watching her, both literally and figuratively. One of the other wolves was assigned to her at all times, ensuring she did not cross the invisible treaty line or stray anywhere too close to human activity. Even though she understood why the other wolves were there, it didn't prevent the visceral sensation that she was being stalked by a predator. Her human instinct was to be afraid of the frightening creatures. Although she was one of them, she didn't feel like it, and she visibly startled if one of them made any quick movement toward her. It was actually very embarrassing.
She was almost grateful for the distraction of her hunger. Her stomach grumbled and gnawed at her. Between the illness that led to her change and her traumatic first hours as a wolf, she hadn't had anything to eat in days. The boys had all eaten normal meals when they phased back into their human bodies. When it was clear that she wasn't going to phase back anytime soon, Embry suggested that she hunt. She preferred to starve. Jacob brought her a mixing bowl containing his dinner leftovers, spaghetti bolognese. She instinctively reached a hand out to it, not expecting the claw she saw instead. Her appetite vanished. Then she spotted the ridiculous picture she made in Jared's eyes: an enormous wolf bent over a bowl of pasta. He imagined her muzzle covered in sauce, and he laughed to himself.
She didn't appreciate his mockery and sent him a death glare. Her hunger pangs turned into waves of nausea, and she stalked off. He followed at a distance, rebuffing her attempts to get him to leave. Sam hadn't yet phased back in, but he had left strict orders that they must stay within sight of her. He didn't think she was in any condition to take care of herself.
She couldn't even fall asleep to escape them. After Seth went home, Jared finally led her to the shelter of a cave, where she lay down. He sat in the entrance staring out at the waves. Though she was utterly exhausted, she couldn't sleep. Between her discomfort on the rocky ground, her frayed nerves, and the innocuous but ever-present chatter between Jared and Paul, who was on patrol, she couldn't rest. She didn't even feel like she could relax. Instead of seeing the dark inside of her eyelids, she saw everything that Paul and Jared saw. Someone might as well have taped her eyes open and asked her to sleep. She finally got up and stalked past Jared. She said nothing, but they felt her frustration. She wanted them to shut up, but it was impossible to turn off their own thoughts.
Eventually you'll get used to it, said Paul. The pack mind is...
Jared trotted after her. It is what it is. Nothing we can do about it.
She wouldn't have been so frustrated about their telepathy if she couldn't tell how irritated Jared was at having to watch over her. Normally Sam would have relieved him of his shift, but he had wisely decided to keep his distance from Leah. Unfortunately, that meant that the remaining members of the small pack had to pick up the slack. Jared didn't care about missing school, but he resented anything that separated from Kim. He couldn't stop thinking about her, nor could he hide how much he would rather be with her rather than watching Leah.
Feel free to go, she said. As far as I'm concerned, you can go do whatever you want. I don't need a babysitter.
Actually, you do. Alpha's orders. Now, if you would just phase back into your body, you could go home and go to bed, and I could go see Kim.
She answered irritably, Don't you think I'd do it if I could figure out how? Don't you think I'm trying?
He didn't mean to speak out loud, but she could hear his thought as clearly as if he yelled it in her ear. Obviously you're not trying hard enough.
Cut me some slack! she snapped. It took Sam, what, two weeks to change back? How long did it take you?
Three days, he offered reluctantly.
Paul offered, It took me four.
Jared sighed, Look, I'm not trying to be a jerk. It's just really hard to be away from Kim.
He's not exaggerating, Paul added. He's like an addict who hasn't had a fix. Leah noticed the undercurrent of disapproval in his tone, but Jared ignored it.
Well, I didn't ask you to stay with me, Leah answered. I'm serious. As far as I'm concerned, you can go. Plus it's been what, all of three hours since you last saw her? And aren't you going directly to her place after your shift?
You don't get it. It's not like the normal way you miss somebody. As Jared thought about Kim, he visibly relaxed. He lowered his haunches to the ground, and she could swear she saw a vacant expression cross his lupine face. Imprinting is different. It's amazing. It's… He struggled to come up with words, and she could feel his senses tune one by one onto someone who wasn't even there. He got lost in a fog. It's like nothing you've ever felt before. It's amazing.
Paul tried to stop him, interrupting, Honestly, dude? Are you really going there?
She's going to see it all anyway, Jared pointed out. I know you care about Sam, Leah. But that's why you should be glad that he imprinted. Emily is his actual soulmate. She's perfect for him in every way. There's no one better for him in the entire world. Most people aren't lucky enough to end up with their soulmate, but he is. So if you really care about him, you should just be happy for him.
Leah actually growled at him, a menacing, black sound from deep within her chest and throat. Part of her was still appalled that she was capable of making such a noise. But she was so angry that the release of her pain and aggression felt good.
Paul snorted at her attempt to intimidate Jared, who turned and bristled at her in response. Hey, back off! I'm sorry that you were collateral damage, but Sam and Emily are meant to be, just like Kim and I are. You should feel lucky that he ended it before you guys got married and didn't have to get a divorce or something. He thought of his own relationship with Kim as he spoke. He had every intention of proposing as soon as he could afford a ring.
Wait now, Leah stopped him. This is the same girl who is been in all of your classes since, what, kindergarten? One girl out of how many, six? Seven in your whole grade?
Paul answered for him. Five. There are five girls in our class.
Okay, so she's your soulmate, and you've known her for your entire life. And she's got almost no competition just because of how small the tribal school is. So you must have fallen for her ages ago, right? Because she's your perfect match, and she's been sitting right next to you for a decade.
Jared didn't want to admit anything that might lessen Kim in Leah's eyes at all. I just didn't know what was good for me, that's all. I was blind, and the imprint opened my eyes.
Yeah, right. Leah scoffed. Because you guys see your imprints so perfectly, is that it? Then how come Sam doesn't even know what Emily really looks like? How come he morphed her body with mine in his brain? How come he thinks my eyes are hers?
Paul wanted to hear Jared's response, so he just listened. Jared stammered, You don't know what you're talking about. It's like he said. You guys just have the same eyes, that's all. You're related to each other, after all. And so what if he doesn't see those scars when he thinks of her? That's a good thing. She doesn't want people staring at them, and he doesn't. It doesn't mean he's confused the two of you somehow.
If he can't see the scars, then he's gone completely blind! Leah snarled, at the end of her wits. Hell, maybe you have too! Or maybe you've gone just as crazy as he has, just as crazy as I have got to be!
Jared repeated defensively, You don't know what you're talking about. You've only been here a couple days. You don't have everything figured out. You're just angry because Sam left you. Imprinting is the best thing that ever happened to him, just like its the best thing that ever happened to me.
Really? she asked. Because I knew Sam as well as I know anyone in the world, and that is not him. He changed a lot when he phased, I see why in retrospect, but he was still the same guy beneath the muscle and the temper. But now? He's had a damn lobotomy.
You're just jealous, Jared asserted. He couldn't stand any challenge to his belief that imprinting was a gift. Emily's amazing. She's kind and thoughtful and she takes great care of him. She's exactly what he needs. The sooner you accept reality, the better.
Goddamn brainwashed zombie motherfucker. Leah didn't mean to say it to him, but he heard her nonetheless. Normally she never would have voiced such a thing to anyone. But the filter that existed between her brain and her mouth was useless in the pack mind.
Jared didn't appreciate it either way. Hey, I'm just trying to help you here! The least you could do is be a little appreciative. It's not like I've got nothing better to do than follow you around all day long.
I didn't ask for your help! She shouted. You don't want to be here? That's great! I don't want you here either! Leave me alone, both of you!
Paul didn't like being lumped in with Jared. Hey, I'm not the one arguing with you.
You know we can't leave you alone, Jared answered. We have our orders.
She was exasperated. What is it with you people and your orders? Is everyone here a little slave for Sam Uley? He says jump, and you say how high!
Jared defended his friend. He's a good leader, Leah. He had it harder than any of us, phasing all alone. Nobody to help him. Nobody to tell him what was going on. You should be grateful that you didn't have to go through that.
She sarcastically answered, Of course. Grateful. Because everything that's happened in the past couple days was really good for me. Really good for my brother.
Jared answered, That's not what I meant, and you know it. I'm sorry about your dad, but don't pretend like you're the only one who's had it rough. Going to school while we we're on a patrol schedule? There isn't exactly time for both. My parents thinking I'm some kind of delinquent because I'm always disappearing on them? I'm in trouble all the time. Knowing that I might fight to the death with a vampire anytime I go to the woods? We're built for it, yeah, but it isn't exactly how I wanted to spend my weekends.
All of that only made Leah feel worse. She wasn't even thinking about herself anymore. She was thinking about Seth. How was he going to manage to stay in school this way? What did his future now hold? It was bad enough that her life had been overturned, but she couldn't stand the idea that her brother's promising future might be reduced to this. Fuck. This is a goddamn nightmare. What's going to happen to Seth?
Paul replied, We split patrol shifts pretty evenly, except for Sam, since he's not in school anymore. He takes more of them. Seth will get on the rotation just like everyone else.
But he's just a kid! He can't afford to miss that much school, she protested.
Paul told her bluntly, None of us can afford to miss this much school. We've got to do it anyway because we have no choice.
Anger boiled in Leah's belly. Not only was she not going back to Pullman anytime soon, she was going to have to quit her job, drop out of college, and stay here only to watch her brother's promising future vanish into thin air. She didn't think she could stand it. Just one week ago, she was making plans with her friends, laughing with Rachel, and setting up another date with Jonathan. She was making a good living, learning to be independent, and making herself and her parents proud. But now she was here, she had turned into a monster, and her father who had been so proud of her was gone forever. She was angry with him, and she hated herself for it. But he had known what happened to Sam, had known why he left her, and worst of all, had known what lay in store for Seth. And yet he had said nothing. She was angry at the betrayal and even more furious at herself for thinking anything ill of the beloved parent she had just lost.
After that, they kept their conversation to a bare minimum. Jared was mad at her, and Paul knew that she wanted only to be left alone. He respected her wishes. So they didn't speak, but nothing could keep them from hearing each other's thoughts. Leah's were hopelessly dark, and they left her to them.
Jared finally phased out at the end of his shift. Instead of waiting until Embry phased in to give him an update, he went looking for his packmate in his human form. He didn't want to be in Leah's presence for a second longer than he had to. Paul knew Jacob would be a little late; he had to help his father to bed before he could leave the house. For a few blessed minutes, there was only one other voice in her head.
By then, Leah was lying near the edge of a rocky outcropping overlooking the sea. She had been awake for so long that she was starting to doze off periodically despite the sights and sounds on display in the pack mind. Her thoughts were as quiet as they could get in her semiconscious state. Her eyes were closed, but she could tell that Paul was looping back toward her. His steps carried him uphill. She said nothing as he approached, and neither did he.
Eventually she saw her own grey wolf lying before his eyes. It was a surreal sight. She didn't think she would ever get used to seeing more than one perspective at once, and she came to full awareness.
You kind of get used to it. Sort of. It gets less nauseating, anyway, he said quietly.
She said nothing in response, but he knew she was awake. Her uneven breathing and slightly elevated heart rate would have given her away even if he couldn't read her mind. He came up beside her and stretched out on the ground. He said nothing else. He just looked out at the waves. Eventually she opened her eyes to see the same view. What was your first time like? she asked.
He deliberately misunderstood her. Delia Blackwing at Jamie Ryan's house party. Also the first time I got drunk. It was... Well, let's just say not my proudest moment. But I practiced a lot and got better real fast.
Pervert, she snorted as hazy pictures flooded her mind. I really don't want to see any of that! Bad enough you told me. And wasn't she just one class below me? Doesn't that make her three years older than you?
Yeah, he answered smugly. This wolf thing really aged me. I look older than you do at this point. It was different for those of us who had more lead time before we shifted. I think I grew a good six or seven inches before I phased, and I buffed up a ton. I don't think those physical changes happened to you so much because you were only back for a couple days before the shift happened.
Man, I hope not, she sighed. I don't want to look like I'm thirty until, you know, I'm thirty.
I know plenty of sexy thirty year old ladies, but I don't think you have to worry about that either way. Unbidden, the image of her naked body crouching on the ground appeared in his mind. There was no point in trying to hide it, because she already knew what he was thinking about, so he just went with it. You've always been the hottest girl on the Rez, Leah, and if you keep phasing, you'll keep the title indefinitely. As long as we keep phasing, we don't age. So if you want, you could keep that sexy shape just like it is until you're 50 or 60. Or a hundred if you feel like it.
Seriously? She asked. There's no way I was ever the hottest girl here. And I absolutely do not want to turn into this creature for any longer than I have to. But you make it sound like we do get to stop at some point. Is that true?
Yeah. Everyone stops eventually, or so they tell us anyway. And it must be true, right? If not, there would still be some members of the last pack hanging around. Supposedly everybody eventually decides to stop phasing so that they can age with their families.
Well that's something, I guess. I'm glad that I won't be stuck like this forever.
She glanced at him, and he was giving her a grin. His teeth looked incredibly sharp. But wouldn't you like to still look like you're 20 when you're actually 50? Just imagine. Emily will be fat and wrinkled and have sagging tits and a flabby butt, and you could still look like a swimsuit model. Wouldn't you like to rub it in her face? Or better yet, Sam's?
She laughed despite herself. So that's my new goal in life, huh? Petty revenge?
That, and tearing apart vampires. Paul showed her their successful hunt for a dark skinned predator who had been stalking Bella Swan. His name was Laurent. He told her about the huge rush it had been to rip him apart limb from limb. Just you wait. You are going to love tearing these things to shreds.
The very idea of being violent was an anathema to her. She wanted to spend her life helping people, not hurting them. But she instinctively understood that these creatures weren't people. They were dangerous, they were murderers, and they needed to die. We're protectors, is that right?
It's a thankless job, literally. Nobody knows what we are or what we're doing. It's exhausting and miserable, he admitted. And if I actually stop to think about what an absolute twat Bella Swan is, I kind of want to let them eat her. But she is a human, and she's given me the excuse to massacre one of them. Turns out I really liked it, and I think I'd like to do again.
She didn't answer. She thought about what he said, and she heard him wondering where Embry was. She looked back at the sea, and moments later, she felt a shift, and she looked at Paul. He was sitting next to her in his human body, naked and unashamed. This time he spoke with his voice. "Embry seems to be taking his time. So this might be the only chance you have to get some rest." She cocked an eyebrow at him, and he responded to her unspoken question. He shrugged. "He said one of us is supposed to stick with you, make sure you're safe. But Sam didn't say we had to do it as wolves. Just close your eyes. Until Embry and Jake show up, it'll actually be dark behind your eyelids."
She stared at him for a second, trying to figure out if he was serious. She had a feeling he would get in trouble with Sam, but also that he couldn't care less. Then she closed her eyes.
By the time Embry arrived, Leah had finally fallen into an exhausted sleep. To Paul's surprise, she involuntarily phased back into her human body in her rest. He couldn't stop himself from staring at her lovely form as he phased in. Embry exclaimed, Wow. She's absolutely…
She was gorgeous. Yeah. I know, Paul answered. She's the only girl I've ever met who's an actual ten. He also noticed that he was right; she didn't really look any older than her chronological age. Her transformation had toned her long limbs, but that was all.
Embry interrupted his gawking. Um, I don't think she's going to like us staring. I've got the change of clothes that Jared was holding for her. Let me bring it over.
No, Paul said. Bring a blanket.
Oh, okay. We probably couldn't get her dressed without waking her up anyway, could we? Plus I doubt she wants us touching her like that.
Paul pointed out, I'm going to have to touch her to get her home.
I can do it, Embry volunteered.
But Paul felt possessive. No. I've got her.
Leah dimly felt herself wrapped in soft fabric and lifted off the ground. She was far too tired to wake up fully, but she knew that it was Paul who gently cradled her in his arms for the long walk and tucked her into her childhood bed. When she awoke, she wished the past few days were just an awful dream, but she could smell his scent on the cotton.